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In praise of interrupting Boehner's breakfast

Melissa Harris-Perry encourages two teen children of undocumented immigrants who pressured Speaker John Boehner to get serious about immigration reform.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Melissa Harris-Perry encourages two teen children of undocumented immigrants who pressured Speaker John Boehner to get serious about immigration reform.

It’s hard to compete against breakfast. We should know! I mean, this show is broadcast live during weekend brunch. And it is especially tough when that breakfast is being enjoyed by one of the most powerful men in the country–and you’re trying to get him to put down the salt shaker and pay attention to your serious concerns about immigration policy. 

But breakfast was no match for 13-year-old Carmen Lima and 16-year-old Jennifer Martinez. 

At 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, these two young women approached House Speaker John Boehner at his favorite breakfast spot on Capitol Hill to urge him to act on immigration reform. Both of the girls are the children of undocumented immigrants, and told the Speaker in their appeal why for them, this policy is personal.

Carmen: “So how would you feel if you had to tell your kids at the age of ten that you were never coming home?” Boehner: “That wouldn’t be good.”Carmen: “Huh?”Boehner: “That wouldn’t be good.”Carmen: “I know. So, that’s what happened to me. I thought I was never going to see my dad again… And I cried so hard when my mom told me that, at the age of ten.” 

Now, let’s be honest. When it comes to belief in wish fulfillment, most Americans think asking Congress for what they want will be about as effective as asking Santa Claus. Which is why I am encouraged by these two young women and their extraordinary faith in democracy. 

So this week, my letter goes out to them.

Dear Carmen Lima and Jennifer Martinez: 

It’s me, Melissa, and the first thing I’d like to say to you is: I’m sorry. 

I’m sorry that when you asked the Speaker what he’d do about immigration reform, he told you this: 

Boehner: “Well, I’m trying to find some way to get this thing done.”Carmen: “So we can count on your vote for immigration reform?”Boehner: “I will try to find a way to move the bill forward. Thanks.”

But just three hours later, when asked what the House was going to do about the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill, he told the rest of America this

“We have no intention of ever going into conference on the Senate bill.”

I know hearing that has got to make you feel a little disappointed right now. But the second thing I want to say to you is, don’t be discouraged by your disappointment. Because although this may be a setback, this is not a defeat. Every U.S. policy reform that has advanced the cause of equality was won after unyielding effort and endurance in the face of obstacles by those who fought for the change. 

And the fight to push America forward on immigration is going to be no different. To fortify yourselves for that effort, I want you to hold onto that faith in the legislative process that motivated your conversation with Speaker Boehner. 

Because with Congress’ approval rating the lowest it’s ever been, that faith is a quality that’s in short supply in the American electorate. Even I am having a crisis of faith in the system these days. 

But our democracy does not work without it. Our democracy does not work without you.

The political process cannot move forward without Americans like you who, despite their disappointments, remain willing to be part of it, who continue to hold our lawmakers accountable and demand that they do the job of advancing policy–like immigration reform–which a majority of Americans are calling for them to enact. 

I want you to recognize that John Boehner was not the only leader in that restaurant on Wednesday. Because you set an example that he and our Congress would be wise to follow: you showed how debate and disagreement can be a bridge instead of a barrier. 

So at this moment, I want to urge you not to stop pushing. And maybe, when you’re old enough, to think about running. Because the one thing government needs more than people like you to believe in it is people like you to be a part of it. So that one day, instead of petitioning the power of a man hungry for his breakfast, you can wield that power yourselves to make a difference for those who are hungry for change. 

In the meantime, keep up the good work! Because thanks to you, the struggle will, in fact, not stop. It will indeed continue.